I will not suffer my retirement to be clouded by the slanders of a man whose history, from the moment at which history can stoop to notice him, is a tissue of machinations against the liberty of the country which has not only received and given him bread, but heaped its honors upon his head.
Thomas Jefferson, on Alexander Hamilton, in a letter to George Washington, September 9, 1792
Despite the fact that the Presidency of William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) lasted for only a month, the Harrison family left its mark on history before and after the 9th President’s 31-day stint in the White House in 1841. In fact, the Harrisons were one of the first American political dynasties.
John Scott Harrison (1804-1878), who served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1850s, is the only person in American history to be the son of one President and the father of another. His son (and William Henry Harrison’s grandson), Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901), was the nation’s 23rd President from 1889-1893.
However, the family’s most accomplished member was William Henry Harrison’s father and the man whom the 23rd President was named after — Benjamin Harrison V (1726-1791).
One of the nation’s Founding Fathers, the elder Benjamin Harrison never served as President himself, but he had direct or indirect links to several Presidents, not counting his son and great-grandson.
Benjamin Harrison V served in Virginia’s House of Burgesses for nearly 30 years (1748-1775) and became an early, vocal opponent of British policies towards the colonies. As Revolution approached, Harrison was a leading member of the Virginia delegation to the first and second Continental Congresses and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
During the second Continental Congress, Harrison shared a home in Philadelphia with a fellow Virginian — his roommate was George Washington. During the Revolutionary War, Harrison was often entrusted with drafting orders and dispatches to General Washington on behalf of Congress.
As war raged on, Harrison returned to the Virginia state legislature, newly christened as the House of Delegates, where he crossed paths with another future President — Thomas Jefferson. In 1778, Harrison defeated Jefferson in a race to become the speaker of Virginia’s House. Three years later, Harrison succeeded Jefferson as Governor of Virginia.
Following his term as Governor, Benjamin Harrison V sought to regain a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates. While he eventually won re-election to the House and remained in Virginia’s legislature until his death in 1791, he initially came up short. Harrison lost a race in 1784 to John Tyler, Sr.
It wouldn’t be the last campaign featuring a Harrison and Tyler.
In 1840 — 56 years after Benjamin Harrison V and John Tyler, Sr. faced off for a seat in Virginia’s legislature — their sons, William Henry and John Jr., teamed up and were elected President and Vice President of the United States.
It doesn’t really matter whether he slept with her or not. He could have. After all, he owned her. She was subject to his exploitations in every conceivable way. It was he who brought her to Paris. It was he who sent her home from Paris. He had complete control of her destiny and he might have fathered the several children…Many people who deny that Jefferson fathered any mulatto children say that it was done by his nephews or by some other relatives. They seem to have scientific proof for that, without having any scientific proof for his not having slept with Sally Hemings or some other slaves. The important point to make is that throughout the land in the 18th and 19th centuries, blacks were the victims, the subjects, the exploited people of their owners and of those whites who didn’t own them. And that we lived in such immorality, such irregularity…that these things were part of the natural landscape in Virginia, and Mr. Jefferson was as likely as any others to have done this because it’s in character with the times — and, indeed, with him, who believed in exploiting these people that he controlled completely.
John Hope Franklin, on whether Thomas Jefferson fathered children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings
Oh, absolutely. I can’t see any President turning down that offer at that time. The interesting thing is how torn Jefferson was over the Louisiana Purchase because of the doubts he had about whether he did or did not have the Constitutional right to authorize such a purchase.
Awesome job working the plug in there for Tributes and Trash Talk!
I’ve always found the JQA/Jefferson relationship fascinating. Obviously, the John Adams/Thomas Jefferson relationship is one of the most historic and interesting dynamics ever, especially since a lot of it is recorded through their letter to each other or about each other to others.
With JQA, though, what is interesting is that there was a great respect between them and must have been some sort of affection because John Adams, in one of his last letters to Jefferson, half-jokingly referred to JQA, who was President at that point, as “our John” and said that “I call him our John, because, when you were at the Cul de sac at Paris, he appeared to me to be almost as much your boy as mine.”
Like you said, there must have been some animosity on JQA’s part because Jefferson defeated his father. George W. Bush openly admitted to feeling the same way after Bill Clinton beat HIS father for the Presidency. Yet, there were many things that JQA and Jefferson agreed on politically and Jefferson’s protege, James Monroe, was half-mentor, half-partner to John Quincy Adams when Monroe was President and JQA was Secretary of State. Most interesting to me is that, in his personal diary shortly after Jefferson died, JQA eviscerated Jefferson while savagely critiquing Jefferson’s autobiography. It’s a strange relationship - more of a rollercoaster ride, in my opinion, than the off-and-on relationship between JQA’s father and Jefferson.
TR was an especially brutal critic of Jefferson. It’s kind of ironic that the incredibly wealthy Roosevelt saw Jefferson as something of an elitist. I think Roosevelt’s biggest issue was he despised hypocrites and he saw Jefferson as one of the most glaring hypocrites of them all because of slavery. There’s also the fact that Roosevelt looked down on men who didn’t fight when there was a battle to be joined. As Governor of Virginia, Jefferson fled when it appeared the British were on their way to capture him, and Roosevelt saw that as cowardice — even though Jefferson probably couldn’t have lasted 60 seconds in a battle in which he would have been vastly outnumbered by the British and likely would have been summarily executed for treason if he had been captured. Jefferson, as head of government in Virginia, made the right move by fleeing, but Roosevelt couldn’t forgive that or see it as anything but weakness.
3rd President of the United States (1801-1809)
Full Name: Thomas Jefferson
Born: April 13, 1743, Shadwell plantation, Goochland (present-day Albemarle County), Virginia
Term: March 4, 1801-March 4, 1809
Political Party: Democratic-Republican
Vice Presidents: Aaron Burr; George Clinton
Died: July 4, 1826, Monticello estate, near Charlottesville, Virginia
Buried: Monticello estate, near Charlottesville, Virginia
Another of the “Precedent Presidents”, the biggest achievements of Thomas Jefferson’s two terms in the White House were ambitious exhibitions of Executive power that seemed to go against the strictly republican, weak central power beliefs that Jefferson had lived his life on — the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the use of Executive Privilege, the abolition of the slave trade. Surprising until you realize that Jefferson’s biography was a maze of contradictions. While Jefferson will always be impossible to fully understand, it’s also impossible to overlook the fact that the 3rd President expanded the boundaries of the nation, expanded our understanding of the country we lived in, fought back against the Barbary pirates in a show of national strength, and even expanded the office of the President by his use of Executive Privilege in Aaron’s Burr’s treason trial. The last two years of Jefferson’s term, with the Embargo Act and the Non-Intercourse Act left his successor, James Madison, with a wealth of inherited problems, but Jefferson’s achievements prior to that modernized the Presidency and American politics in a way that cannot be discounted.
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine: 5 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine: 5 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine: 5 of 38
1990: Siena Institute: 3 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine: 4 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 7 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll: 5 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership: 4 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 7 of 42
2010: Siena Institute: 5 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre: 4 of 40
First of all, I can’t believe there is a firestorm over this. A lot of things are up for debate, including what Jefferson’s racial views were, but there is no way that anybody can ever convince me that Jefferson did his slaves a service by not releasing them and allowing them to live on their terms. That’s the most paternalistic, racist, stupid argument that I’ve ever heard.
A couple of final notes about this.
The emancipation proc. was a military strategy, that is why he was able to pass an executive order. It did not free the slaves in the union, just the slaves in the south which one could argue was out of his jurisdiction so it really had no effect on the union itself. It was just an updated version of the slaves as contraband. Jefferson could not sign such a thing in VA and if he did im sure he would of been punted from VA in a heartbeat. So you seriously missed the boat on this one.
second, jefferson was not cruel to his slaves as you as making it seem. He would pay his slaves is they had an abnormally hard day and so forth. He took care of them gave them time off, clothes, feed them well… yada yada. Not saying slavery is a good thing either. As far as slaver-holders went Jefferson was the “nicest.”
third, jefferson mulled this over on countless occasions. If he freed them they would most likely get hired back to do the same job and suffer from layoffs. He couldn’t afford to hire them back full time either. So he figured it was best to keep them.
*Cough* i think you may have overlooked a part of Jefferson’s correspondence with coles:
But in the mean time are you right in abandoning this property, and your country with it? I think not. My opinion has ever been that, until more can be done for them, we should endeavor, with those whom fortune has thrown on our hands, to feed and clothe them well, protect them from all ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen, & be led by no repugnancies to abdicate them, and our duties to them.
Im not slavery is completely 100% justifiable but the way you treat the subject does not do justice to Jefferson or the time period. Historical context is key for historians.
Yes, the Emancipation Proclamation was a military strategy, but it wasn’t the reason Lincoln was able to issue an Executive Order. That’s one of the tools of the Presidency. The President doesn’t have to be at war to issue an Executive Order.
Jefferson didn’t need an Executive Order or the permission of Virginia or anyone to free his own slaves at Monticello. I understand that it appears that Jefferson didn’t beat his slaves. But you can’t say that he wasn’t “cruel” to his slaves. The very idea of slavery is cruelty and de-humanizes an entire people. He sold slaves. He bought slaves. He put notices in the newspaper offering rewards for his runaway slaves. You said that “as far as slave-holders went Jefferson was the ‘nicest’”. THERE IS NO NICE WAY TO OWN SLAVES. HOW CAN THAT NOT BE UNDERSTOOD? IT IS SLAVERY.
Now, as for the correspondence from Jefferson-to-Coles that I “overlooked”? Do you not realize that Jefferson calls human beings “property” in that paragraph. THAT IS THE ISSUE. Human beings can not and should not be property. Jefferson’s entire belief system was built on the idea that life is for the living, and people should be allowed to determine their own path in life. That’s not something that I am interpreting or making up. That is a fact. It is why Jefferson supported the American Revolution (and the French Revolution). Yet, you’re giving Jefferson credit for being a paternalistic man who owned human beings because, as he points out in that paragraph, they’re not quite ready to live their own lives. You know why they weren’t ready? Because they were property to Jefferson. I hate that I have to go here, but to Jefferson, the slaves were basically livestock that he could talk to and fuck.
The last thing I want to say is that neutralangel made a post and I love his stuff, appreciate his support, and agree with him on everything he posted except for one thing:
I’m reblogging this again because I’m not sure my post earlier was formatted properly and made it seem as though I was like, “YEAH ALL THESE PEOPLE LOVE THE SLAVERIES.” In fact, only two of them do. They are justifying Jefferson’s ownership of slaves by saying, basically, that he thought it was a pretty bad idea otherwise.
I am absolutely certain that bobbysplayhouse and revocate-animos are not supporters of slavery. They know it was evil. They love Jefferson and they don’t quite understand Jefferson’s views, which is okay, because there’s a lot to love about Jefferson and a lot that we don’t understand. I’ve probably read every word Jefferson ever wrote, and he’s still a paradox to me and always will be to all of us historians.
Debate is good, discussion is healthy. If someone doesn’t understand something, I hope that I can help, just as I hope I can realize when I am misguided about an issue. There cannot be debate, however, on the degrees of slavery. As I wrote the other day, very few things are certain in this world but there are no nice ways to kill somebody and no good ways to own slaves.
The Presidents Talk About: Thomas Jefferson
“He is an old friend with whom I have often had occasion to labor on many a knotty problem, and in whose abilities and steadiness I always found great cause to confide.” — John Adams, 1784
“It is with much reluctance that I am obliged to look upon him as a man whose mind is warped by prejudice and so blinded by ignorance as to be unfit for the office he holds. However wise and scientific as a philosopher, as a politician he is a child and a dupe of party.” — John Adams, 1797; at the time, Jefferson was Adams’s Vice President
"Mr. Jefferson said I was sensitive, did he? Well, I was sensitive…I always loved Jefferson, and still love him.” — John Adams, to Edward Coles in 1811, talking about the breach in the Adams-Jefferson friendship
"I congratulate You and Madison and Monroe on your noble Employment in founding a University. From such a noble Tryumvirate, the World will expect something very great and very new.” — John Adams, congratulating Jefferson on the founding of the University of Virginia, in a letter, May 26, 1817
“Thomas Jefferson still survives!” — John Adams, his last words before dying, July 4, 1826; Adams didn’t know that Jefferson had died earlier that same day.
“For a period of fifty years, there has not been an interruption or a diminution of mutual confidence and cordial friendship (between myself and Mr. Jefferson) for a single moment in a single instance…It may be said of him as has been said of others that he was a ‘walking library’, and what can be said of but few such prodigies, that a Genius of Philosophy ever walked hand in hand with him…He lives and will live in the memory and gratitude of the wise and good, as a luminary of Science, as a votary of liberty, as a model of patriotism, and as a benefactor of human kind.” — James Madison, 1826
“A slur upon the moral government of the world.” — John Quincy Adams
“He was a mixture of profound and sagacious observation, with strong prejudices and irritated passions…If not an absolute athiest, he had no belief in a future existence. All his ideas of obligation were bounded by the present life. His duties to his neighbor were under no stronger guarantee than the laws of the land and the opinions of the world. The tendency of this condition upon a mind of great compass is to produce insincerity and duplicity, which were his besetting sins through life.” — John Quincy Adams
"Mr. Jefferson can torture Aaron Burr while England tortures our sailors." — Andrew Jackson, denouncing Jefferson’s pursuit of treason charges against Aaron Burr, Richmond, Virginia, 1807
“The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of a free society.” — Abraham Lincoln
“Perhaps the most incapable Executive that ever filled the Presidential chair…It would be difficult to imagine a man less fit to guide the state with honor and safety through the stormy times that marked the opening of the present century.” — Theodore Roosevelt
“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” — John F. Kennedy, April 29, 1962, White House dinner for Nobel Laureates.
“An idealist with sense.” — Richard Nixon
“Thomas Jefferson made a comment about the Presidency and age. He said that one should not worry about one’s exact chronological age in reference to his ability to perform one’s task. And ever since he told me that, I’ve stopped worrying. And just to show you how youthful I am, I intend to campaign in all 13 states.” — Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Annual Salute to Congress Dinner, February 4, 1981
“I want to be faithful to Jefferson’s idea that about once in a generation you have to shake things up and face your problems. We owe it to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and all our forbears to face the difficult problems of our time and try to solve them.” — Bill Clinton, on a bus tour to Monticello, Virginia prior to his inauguration as President, January 18, 1993
“If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, I would appoint him Secretary of State, and then suggest to Senator Gore that we both resign so he could become President.” — Bill Clinton, on a bus tour to Monticello, Virginia prior to his inauguration as President, January 18, 1993
I haven’t written anything in-depth about the Adams-Jefferson friendship, but it really is fascinating, especially since they ended up dying on the very same day, which just so happened to be the Fourth of July, which just so happened to be the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which they just so happened to write. If that happened today, can you imagine the conspiracy theories?
I think the best resources on their friendship is their own letters. Not just the correspondence between the two of them after they became pen pals late in life, but their letters to friends, which made frequent mentions of politics and each other. The correspondence of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson can be easily found online.
On July 6, 1826, the people of Charlottesville, Virginia braved stormy conditions and pushed through the rain as they marched along a muddy road leading to the top of a hill on the outskirts of town. At the top of the hill was Thomas Jefferson’s beloved estate, Monticello – a home which had been a work-in-progress since Jefferson began designing and building it nearly 60 years earlier.
It had been two days since the Fourth of July – the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration Aof Independence. Throughout the nation, celebrations had been underway to commemorate that special day. On that very day, two of the men who had not only signed that Declaration but largely drafted it were breathing their last breaths, surrounded by family and friends. In Quincy, Massachusetts, 90-year-old John Adams, the 1st Vice President and 2nd President, drifted in-and-out of consciousness. Before he died at about 6:00 PM, Adams muttered his last words – which was more of an exclamation: “Thomas Jefferson still survives!”
Unbeknownst to Adams, Thomas Jefferson did not still survive. Right around the time that Adams spoke his last words, Jefferson had died in his bed at Monticello at the age of 83. Two of the giants of the Revolution, the 1st and 2nd Vice Presidents and the 2nd and 3rd Presidents, not only died on the same exact day, but that day happened to be the 50th anniversary of their greatest triumph. No matter how many times that fact is written or referenced, it will always remain amazing.
Now, two days later, the people of Virginia prepared to bury their legendary neighbor. The burial service at Jefferson’s graveside was not as simple as the former President had indicated he wanted. The residents of Charlottesville planned for a large procession of townspeople to head to Monticello and pay their respects to Thomas Jefferson. However, rain disrupted those plans and after some delays, a much smaller group grew tired of waiting for the rest of the honor guard and set off for Monticello on their own. The burial service was quick and when the first delegation from Charlottesville headed back down the mountain to their homes , they ran into the second delegation of Charlottesville residents – more than 1,500 of Jefferson’s neighbors, friends, and distant family who were extraordinarily disappointed that they had missed out on the ceremony to bury the former President.
Through it all, a young man lingered at Jefferson’s grave. Just 17 years old, he hovered around the burial site before the ceremony, listened attentively as the Episcopalian minister conducted Jefferson’s graveside service in a driving rain, and continued watching as the competing delegations from Charlottesville came, argued with one another and disappeared, and, finally, looked on intently as Jefferson’s wooden casket was lowered into the ground. To his friends, the boy was strange – even macabre at times – with a morbid sense of humor and what seemed like an unusual and unhealthy obsession with death.
Yet, even if he was unusual, his friends enjoyed his company. The young man had a tendency to make up funny poems on the spot. Often, they were satirical or even ghoulish and morbid. But on July 6, 1826, the 17-year-old boy who was watching the burial of Thomas Jefferson’s body at the family cemetery at Monticello wasn’t laughing, cracking jokes, or making up poetry. The mood was too solemn, so instead, he lingered around like some sort of haunting presence – the type of haunting presence that he would write about in the years to come.
The 17-year-old witness to Thomas Jefferson’s burial just happened to be a student at the educational institution that Jefferson proudly helped establish. Unfortunately, after one semester, the boy was out of money and about to drop out of the University of Virginia. After he left Virginia, he turned to following through on those poems he used to recite.
That haunting young man who watched the slaves/gravediggers bury Thomas Jefferson’s body at Monticello two days after the 50th anniversary of Independence Day was Edgar Allan Poe.
Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson
By Alan Pell Crawford
Hardcover. 322 pages.
2008. Random House.
On the night of March 4, 1809, Thomas Jefferson attended the first official inaugural ball in the history of the United States at Long’s Hotel in Washington, D.C. It was a grand event, presided over by one of the grandest ladies of the early republic — Dolley Madison. Jefferson — a month away from his 66th birthday – was unusually cheerful and described as “beaming with a benevolent joy”. Future President John Quincy Adams was not quite as happy, noting in his diary that “the heat was oppressive, the crowd excessive, and the entertainment bad.”
For Jefferson, it was the first day of the rest of his life, for this was a ball celebrating the inauguration of James Madison, 4th President of the United States, and Jefferson’s successor. After eight long years as President, which followed four years as Vice President, Thomas Jefferson was finally retiring to his beloved Monticello and he couldn’t be happier. When a guest suggested to Jefferson that the new President looked somber in comparison to the now former President, Jefferson responded, “There’s a good reason for my happy and his serious looks. I have got the burthen off my shoulders, while he has now got it on his.”
In Alan Pell Crawford’s Twilight at Monticello (2008, Random House), Jefferson’s final years are recounted in a well-researched, compelling manner. Crawford’s writing is loose and journalistic, and Twilight at Monticello is strengthened by Jefferson’s own extensive correspondence, which gives insight on the thoughts, hopes, worries, and health of Jefferson in retirement. Because of Jefferson’s letters to friends, family, and colleagues, and Crawford’s solid storytelling, we are able to closely follow Jefferson as he retires to Monticello, deals with aging, reconnects with old friends, sees family members grow up and pass away, and, most significantly, comes face-to-face with mounting debts from years of heavy spending and poor mismanagement of his finances and the land and crops that were supposed to contribute to his finances.
Twilight at Monticello also shows a man who never stopped thinking about the future of the nation that he helped create. The two Presidents who immediately succeeded Jefferson were fellow Virginians and former protégés, James Madison and James Monroe, and Jefferson made himself available to dispense advice or raise questions when he felt it necessary. As Jefferson got older, he also began thinking of his legacy. To many, writing the Declaration of Independence or being President of the United States would be enough, but in his final years, Jefferson accomplished what he personally felt to be his finest achievement. Along with Madison and Monroe, Jefferson helped establish the University of Virginia. Jefferson was so proud of the creation of the University of Virginia that he listed “Father of the University of Virginia” on his tombstone, but neglected to mention that he was President of the United States.
There was also a tragic aspect to Jefferson’s final years, and Crawford doesn’t shy away from reminding his readers about that. Jefferson spent his entire life designing and perfecting his estate, Monticello, located near Charlottesville, Virginia. But in retirement, Jefferson’s debts began piling up even higher and the Founding Father was forced to turn to friends, loans, and sponsors for help. Jefferson even sold his treasured library to the United States government in order to earn some money to pay off debts and attend to his neglected estate. Jefferson’s library ended up being the foundation of the Library of Congress and you can still see the collection today at the LOC.
Family issues also weighed heavily on Jefferson. Part of those issues were related to financial problems that ultimately became the problems of his children and grandchildren. Jefferson also dealt with several family members by marriage whose alcoholism affected the Jefferson household and often worried Jefferson about his ability to protect his daughter and other family members. Through letters written by Jefferson, by Jefferson’s family and neighbors, and accounts of the time, Crawford accurately reconstructs what life was like at Monticello in those Twilight years of Jefferson’s life, from 1809-1826.
Love him or hate him or misunderstand him, Thomas Jefferson lived a fascinating life — all 83 years of it. In Twilight at Monticello, Alan Pell Crawford illuminates those final 17 years of that full, captivating life of the 3rd President of the United States, the Author of the Declaration of Independence, and, as Jefferson would want to point out, the Father of the University of Virginia. Crawford’s story begins on March 4, 1809 and ends on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and the day that Jefferson and John Adams miraculously both died within hours of each other. Jefferson’s story covers much more time and history than that, but Twilight at Monticello tells an interesting part of it and I highly recommend checking out this wonderful work by Alan Pell Crawford.
Alan Pell Crawford’s Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson is available now in hardcover and paperback. You can also get Twilight at Monticello on your Kindle. Alan Pell Crawford also the author of Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman — and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America as well as Thunder on the Right: The “New Right” and the Politics of Resentment.
I’m not a huge fan of Alexander Hamilton and I don’t think he would have been a good President because he was such a divisive figure in American politics. Hamilton needed someone to reign him in, which is the only reason he lasted as long as he did in George Washington’s Cabinet (and, even then, he could be trouble).
Jefferson was also a divisive figure but, unlike Hamilton, Jefferson was smarter politically and knew when to be fluid. Jefferson had very strong feelings about limited government, but he also was the President whose Administration allowed the Louisiana Purchase which went against almost everything Jefferson professed to believe in when it came to executive power.
Hamilton’s personal life was also a mess and was a timebomb just waiting to explode into scandal. Plus, as useful as a strong central government might have been, I feel like the nation simply wasn’t ready to allow that so soon after rebelling against King George III and the monarchy. The nation could barely allow George Washington to hold the power that he did, so there was no way they would have trusted even more power in the hands of Alexander Hamilton.